Third level – course change, dropping out

Most young people attending college navigate their way through to graduation day. However, a significant number become disillusioned with college or the course they chose and make the decision to drop out of college altogether or look at enrolling in another course.

Third Level Course Change Drop Out CAOIf this sounds familiar, consider the following tips to help you work with and support your son/daughter in the decisions they make.

Try to view this change as broadly as possible

Reserve judgement and highly emotional reactions. This was probably not an easy decision for them and it was probably difficult for them to talk to you. They will be watching carefully for your response.

Stay calm and rational

It may not be the news you want to hear, but it means your son/daughter has the wisdom to recognise that something isn’t working. You may not be able to help them rethink the decision. Indeed you may need to simply support him/her in their decision.

Help them explore their feelings

Have an open and honest discussion about their reasons for dropping out. Good communication will help you understand the situation. It’s important to listen more than give advice.

Consider hidden factors

What less obvious reasons might be at the root of the problem? Are they overwhelmed by coursework, homesickness, social isolation, or a failed relationship?

Probe these possibilities through gentle questioning about how they spend their time, new friendships, course troubles, academic life.

Don’t add pressure

It’s already a pressurised situation, so try not to insist on a ‘plan for the future’. Instead engage in open-ended discussion about the situation. A decision about the future is ultimately in the hands of your son/daughter, but you can help them think through options and implications.

What options are there?

One more semester?

Have they considered staying for one more semester? This may be especially important if they’ve only spent one semester at college. The first time at college involves a huge transition. Help them remember that it’s only 14 or 15 weeks.

If they do give the course another chance, help them think about what they can change . Do they need to look for more support on campus or change living arrangements? Could they get more involved in campus life?

Is it possible to transfer?

Should they consider a transfer to another course or college rather than dropping out? Is it a problem with college in general or this particular college?

Can they move home and go to a local college?

Many students drop out because they can’t balance a job and course work at the same time. Help your son/daughter think about whether they can afford to quit their job or reduce work hours so they can focus on college work.

Might it be worth taking out a loan so they can focus on college work and finish sooner with better college grades?

Accept outside help in planning for the future

Just as students engage with career guidance counsellors in secondary school, they should consider seeking help from college services such as counselling services.

Even if the student is unwilling, parents can gain insight and direction from meeting with a member from student services to evaluate the problem and offer recommendations.

If they do still want to drop out

If your son/daughter has decided, after careful consideration, that they need the break and are going to drop out, encourage them to think about realities and to create a plan of action.

Help them to create a budget and think about realistic finances.

Have a realistic discussion about money

  • Will they live at home?
  • Are they able to support themselves?
  • Will they pay you rent?
  • Will you help them financially?
  • Do they already have loans that they need to begin to repay?

Considering what’s next

  • Could they explore taking a course at a local college??
  • Would they consider volunteering?
  • Ask them where they see themselves one year from now? Or five years?


Make a plan to sit down together in six months to re-evaluate and reconsider options.

Leaving college is a big move. Leaving college with a concrete plan can be the difference between feeling like a failure and feeling as though you are making a change of direction.

Helping your son/daughter stay focused on their ultimate goal will help reduce stress around the situation. Hopefully you’ll both feel more positive about a difficult decision.


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